The aim of this thesis has been to review, in the light
of modern linguistic theory, a hypothesis put forward hy
J.A.H. Murray in his .monograph "The Dialect of the Southern
Counties of Scotland. London, 1873", according to which the
confusion of the spellings <a> and <ai>, <e> and <ei> , <o>
and <oi>, <u> and <ui> was due to a Scottish sound change
in the middle of the 15th century resulting in a monophthongisation of the former /i/- diphthongs and a subsequent
coalescence with the corresponding monophthongs.
In Part I, I have examined the categories that guide
work in "descriptive" and in "historical" linguistics and
have elaborated a new synthesis of the two fields based on
the categories level, unit, structure, system, dialect, and
period. They are nothing but useful mental constructs
invented by the linguist to make systematic statements
about human language, but have no existence. Similarly
sound laws are only formulaic expressions of correspondences,
they do not represent the actual change.
I have also maintained that historical (more precisely
comparative genetic) studies are built on descriptive ones
and conversely that they contribute to the latter by widening our knowledge of the spoken medium of past stages of
languages. This is in fact their only purpose. Evolutionary formulae are an extremely powerful tool for reconstructing phonological features, which can be gained only
very imperfect and rudimentary way from written evidence. In performing these operations, synchronic genetic
groupings relying on certain regular correspondences on the
phonological and formal levels of contemporaneous dialects
are taken to reflect diachronic genetic states. This shift
is made possible "by written documents, which act as a guide
in reconstruction without "being able by themselves to give
comprehensive information about the spoken medium. When
reconstruction is achieved and documentary evidence supplemented by phonological data the comparative genetic
constructs are eliminated.
Modern dialects are thus of prime importance in evolutionary studies and provide the only safe way to establish
phonological items of past stages; spellings are of minor
value in this respect. They contribute to the solution of
our task by making language form of the past accessible.
Our reconstruction is thus only partial and not an entire
projection of concocted, forms into the void. As the informational value of the two mediums is so different we should
use them as separate levels of analysis.
Part II is a reconsideration of Murray's hypothesis in
the light of this theoretical discussion. His theory violated the above-mentioned methodological principle in
that he relied partly on spellings, partly on modern dialects - depending on his familiarity with them in the different areas - and treated them as equal sources of evidence.
A detailed study has shown that this procedure resulted in
a false hypothesis. The modern data do not corroborate
his view. In most dialects the items /a:/ and /ai/ are
still distinct, and even in those areas where this is not
the case today we have been able to demonstrate that the
convergence happened after the Middle Scottish period,
/o:/ and /oi/ are differentiated in all the modern dialects.
The Middle Scottish rhymes quoted by Murray in support of
this theory can all be accounted for by the same formulae
as have been set up for the present-day material. A thorough investigation of the promiscuous use of the graphemes
<a>, <ai> ; <e>, <ei> ; <o>, <oi>; <u>, <ui> has finally been
found to be a scribal practice, which originated under special cultural and linguistic conditions, different for each
of the four pairs.
The results of the thesis are thus a contribution to the
knowledge of the spoken medium of Middle Scots gained with
the help of fictional evolutionary formulae, and a new interpretation of the written aspect of this ' etat de langue'.
It can no longer be doubted in view of this that a handling
of the two media in their own right is not only a possibility, but a methodological necessity to avoid serious errors
in our linguistic analyses.